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“Guys, how do you feel when you love someone?”

My sister-in-law had posted the unexpected question in the family group chat, interrupting a stream of memes and cute grandkid pictures.

Feeling the pressure to explain ourselves, those of us in the chat who had already found a spouse scrambled to construct some elaborate phrase of profound yet practical wisdom. But the only response that stood out was this simple one from my mother-in-law:

“They make you feel at home.”

Thinking about my own experience, that answer fit like a glove. Growing up, home was the place where my life, identity, and confidence were built. I could play the flute and mess up dozens of times without being teased. I could bring my ideas and questions to the dinner table and never fail to get a listening ear. I could make mistakes and receive a wise word of correction and encouragement to help me start again. And on any given day, I could find a warm hug and a loving word. At home, I always felt safe, loved, and free.

And that was how I always felt around Jim.

With previous guys I’d dated or been interested in, I tended to feel nervous and awkward around them. Sure, it was exciting, but it was also stressful. There was the constant torment of running through a series of stomach-churning questions: “Does he like me? Does he know I like him? How much do I really like him? Should I go talk to him? How should I respond to his text?” And so on.

With Jim, none of those questions plagued me. When I first met him at a fall picnic in college, I noticed that he had a quiet confidence and friendliness that instantly made me feel at ease. I realized that I knew two of his sisters, whom I loved, and I suggested that he write for the school newspaper I edited. Around him, I was nothing more, or less, than myself.

A few months later, I invited Jim to a karaoke night with friends. He enthusiastically accepted, dove into a wildly high-pitched performance of “Summer Nights” with me, and escorted me back to my dorm. The whole time, I felt tingly all over—not with nervousness, but with joy. I found myself eager to talk with him, have fun and be silly around him, and at the end of the evening, express my heartfelt thanks and desire to get together again.

The feeling continued as we saw each other more. On our first date, I had a blast talking about our families over brunch and gazing at the beauties of a mansion museum, and I didn’t hesitate to let him know it (we scheduled our second date before getting back from the first one!).

Getting to know Jim absolutely involved uncertainty and excitement—but it never made me anxious. At the core of our interactions, I always felt confident, happy, and cared for. It was how I felt at home, and it was how I wanted my own home with someone to be.

While it was hardly a secret that we liked each other, letting our mutual interest unfold organically, like the course of a relaxed conversation in the family living room, brought so much calm and joy to our relationship. There was no drama, no complication; that would only distract from the simple fact that we loved being with each other. So neither of us felt the need to perform, only to be ourselves. As a result, we could naturally bring out the best in each other.

After several months of dating, Jim and I shared with each other how we found our relationship to be different from previous ones. He told me that in the past, whenever he would see a girl he was interested in, he would actually avoid talking to her completely. It was just too nerve-wracking. What made our relationship different, we found, was that it was more than about just liking someone, in the way people gawk at celebrities from afar and then feel faint in their presence. It was about finding someone to love, which means joining with that person to make a new life and a new home. In order to do that, it helps to know first what makes you feel truly at home, and then find a person who gives you the gift of that feeling.

Falling in love, getting engaged, planning a wedding, and getting married are all thrilling experiences that fill life with excitement, uncertainty, and discovery. But the thing that I loved the most about finding my husband, and the thing that gave me the deepest assurance, was that it felt like more than an exciting new chapter; it felt like coming home.